Q&A with Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts
New owner discusses future plans for club, Wrigley Field
For the first time since the Tribune Co. bought the team in 1981, the Cubs' owner will have a face. The Ricketts family formally closed this week, and were introduced Friday at Wrigley Field. For $845 million, the Ricketts get the Cubs, Wrigley Field and a 25-percent share in Comcast SportsNet Chicago. The four Ricketts siblings -- Peter, Tom, Laura and Todd -- and both parents will share interest in the bid through their family trust. Tom Ricketts, chief executive officer of Incapital LLC, a Chicago investment bank, takes over as chairman.
Tom Ricketts attended the University of Chicago in 1984, and that year lived with his brother Peter in an apartment at Addison and Sheffield, which, as all Cubs fans know, is near the right-field corner of Wrigley Field. That year, the Cubs won the National League East with a 96-65 record.
In an interview conducted earlier this month, the new Cubs chairman talked about some of his plans for the team and Wrigley Field.
MLB.com: Most people have heard the stories about you attending Cubs games, sitting in the bleachers, and meeting your wife, Cecelia, there. Did you ever dream you'd own the team?
Tom Ricketts: It's been a dream of mine for a long time to own the team, but it's not the kind of thing that frequently comes true. This is a dream come true, literally, for me and for the family, too. They're all very, very excited.
MLB.com: What will your title be?
Ricketts: I'm the chairman of the board of the team.
MLB.com: Will we see you a lot around the clubhouse?
Ricketts: I don't know about the clubhouse. I'll be around. I'll be at almost all the games. I'll be with the fans more than the players.
MLB.com: What kind of changes can fans expect at Wrigley Field? Will you consider adding a video scoreboard?
Ricketts: Right now, there are really no plans for any type of Jumbotron or video scoreboard. We have a scoreboard that's landmarked and very historical and an integral part of the stadium. With respect to other types of plans, if you were to survey fans and asked what they'd like to see addressed at Wrigley, they'd come back with more amenities improving, such as building more washrooms or better access to the washrooms, or maybe opening the concourses and giving it a little more space for people, maybe better parking options. We only have a little bit of time between now and Opening Day (2010), and we'll do a few things to the stadium. The real key is that we'll spend all of next year planning the next five years, the changes we make to the stadium that bring it through to the next generation. I think that will (involve) looking at all the options and trying to figure out what's the best use of all the space, and both the space in the stadium and outside of the stadium.
MLB.com: There have been plans on the table for some time regarding the so-called "Triangle building" proposed for Clark Street, west of Wrigley. Is that part of your plans "outside" the stadium?
Ricketts: My reference is to the "Triangle building." I don't have enough details to tell anyone what things will go in what order.
MLB.com: The newer stadiums have better clubhouses, batting cages, weight rooms, training rooms and facilities for the players. Any plans for Wrigley?
Ricketts: Our goal is to make the Cubs the best franchise in baseball. You can't have third-rate facilities and a first-rate team. We have to look at improving them anywhere we can.
MLB.com: There is a lot of money committed to Cubs players for 2010. What approach will you take regarding the payroll? Will you and your family come in and open up their checkbook and be like George Steinbrenner was with the New York Yankees?
Ricketts: There is no Steinbrenner-esque plan in this case. We look at where the payroll is. It might be up slightly next year. It's probably going to be about the same. There are a lot of dollars committed to players for 2010, so a lot of the financial flexibility is limited for next year. That said, there's a great nucleus and great core team that's coming back, and hopefully if Jim (Hendry, general manager) can find some of the right people to bring in and round out the team, we'll have a great team next year.
MLB.com: You've stayed out of the baseball operations so far. You're going to the organizational meetings in Arizona in early November, right?
Ricketts: The thought is to go down to the baseball meetings, and just hang out and absorb what I can absorb.
MLB.com: Do you have some outside people you want to bring in as far as baseball operations go?
Ricketts: No. There's no thought of bringing in anybody for baseball operations. I think 2009 was disappointing relative to expectations, but looking at the bigger picture, I think the team has come a long way the last seven years. We have no intentions to make any type of quick-draw type of changes. We're going to be a long-term owner. We're going to make very thoughtful, long-term decisions. In the short run, we like the guys we have.
MLB.com: What are your feelings regarding Milton Bradley and his status with the Cubs?
Ricketts: I'm going to leave that to Jim (Hendry). I don't think it's my place to comment on individual players.
MLB.com: The Cubs have been looking at improving their Spring Training facilities, and possibly moving out of Mesa, Ariz. What can you say about that?
Ricketts: The only real thought is that we want to be the best franchise in baseball. We want to have the best facilities. We're going to take a look at the options available to us. We're going to be open-minded to packages that are offered to the team with the thought of what is best for the team to win during the season. There's a great history and great relationship with Arizona. We look forward to keeping the dialogue going with Mesa. There are other people talking to us, also.
MLB.com: Is there anything in your business dealings that lends itself to this job?
Ricketts: Actually, there are quite a few things that have come in handy. First of all, I started my own company about nine years ago that has about 100 employees, which is the base number here, if you don't count scouts and coaches. I have a very successful business track record on my own. The second thing that's pretty helpful is capital markets experience. I started an investment bank. It's a very, very competitive industry, but learning that industry, learning how the capital markets work, was a significant advantage in understanding how the deal (with the Tribune Co.) had to be structured. I have that going for me.
|"Player development is critical. It starts with bringing in the right players and making sure they get the coaching they need to reach their potential. It's nice that a team can have flexibility to add players through free agency, but it's always your second choice."|
|-- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts|
I think a third piece of experience is more related to the family situation. I never worked at Ameritrade, but I watched my father (Joe Ricketts) run Ameritrade for many years and how he managed a real family business, which is what it was until it got too big to be a family business. I think I have a pretty good feel from that experience and my own company's experience in how to build a culture that really understands excellence and understands accountability and getting people engaged and coming to work with a real purpose and real mission. I think I can bring a lot of those skills to the business side of the transaction.
I think, finally, the only thing I would say is in my business experience, the way I've been successful, is hire the right people, support them, and hold them accountable to the results.
MLB.com: It sounds like you're very competitive. That's good for the owner of a pro sports team.
Ricketts: Starting an investment bank that competes with Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs and all the big (Wall) Street firms, that's really competitive. Obviously, baseball is very competitive and everybody wants to win. It's a good background to have.
MLB.com: The Cubs have gone global as far as scouting, and invested a lot of money and effort into recruiting and signing players in Korea and Taiwan. Do you want to continue that effort?
Ricketts: Absolutely. In all of our models that we look at from a financial perspective, we always look at increasing the player development budget every year going forward. I think it's absolutely the key to being a consistent winner in our division, and the way to get to that World Series. Player development is critical. It starts with bringing in the right players and making sure they get the coaching they need to reach their potential. It's nice that a team can have flexibility to add players through free agency, but it's always your second choice.
MLB.com: The No. 1 question Cubs fans have is can this team win a World Series?
Ricketts: As someone who knows the sport well, you know there's no magic. There's no number you can spend. There's no one player who can make all the difference in the world. The key is you have to consistently make the playoffs. Once you're in the playoffs, anything can and will happen. If you get the hot hand in the playoffs, before you know it, you've got champagne all over you.
The way to get to the playoffs, and the way to keep on that World Series track, is to be consistent, and the way you're consistent is player development. To bring in the right players and have the scouts and the coaches on the same page when they try to turn those players into contributors at the Major League level is key.
In the (Arizona) Fall League, I think there's a good argument that we're on the right track for player development and on the right track for creating that kind of consistency. In the end, when someone says, 'How are you going to win the World Series?' there aren't two different answers. The answer is you get to the playoffs, and you get to the playoffs by having as much flexibility as you can with personnel. That comes from player development.
MLB.com: Did you ever consider purchasing another team?
Ricketts: No. Just the Cubs.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.